Naomi in the Book of Ruth in Light of the Mosaic Covenant -- By: Charles P. Baylis

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 161:644 (Oct 2004)
Article: Naomi in the Book of Ruth in Light of the Mosaic Covenant
Author: Charles P. Baylis


Naomi in the Book of Ruth
in Light of
the Mosaic Covenant

Charles P. Baylis

Charles P. Baylis is Professor of Bible Exposition, Dallas Theological Seminary, and Director of the Seminary’s Southeast Region for External Studies (Tampa and Atlanta).

To understand a character in narrative literature the reader must know how that person fits into the message of the story in view of the author’s ethical standard. This article examines the place that Naomi plays in the literary flow of the Book of Ruth in view of the author’s ethical standard, namely, Israel’s Mosaic Covenant.

Many commentators view all the main characters in the Book of Ruth—Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz—as having no major flaw. For instance Harvey states, “There is no villain in the story. No reprehensible act is done by any character.”1 Since a character is evaluated according to his or her response to the tension in the story, this view means that all the main characters interacting with the tension in the Book of Ruth make only positive ethical responses. Yet not to have a major character in a negative contrast to the positive hero is unknown in any of the other narratives in the Bible.2 Thus the claim that there is no negative main character3 in

the Book of Ruth is somewhat suspect. The presence of a major negative character ordinarily contrasts with and thus heightens the portrayal of the positive character.4

Commentators agree that both Ruth and Boaz play positive roles in the book. Boaz responded to the tension in the story by providing food and children for both Ruth and Naomi. Ruth also interacted positively with the difficulty, for she too gave Naomi food and a child with Boaz.

Many Bible students likewise see no weakness in Naomi, the book’s main character.5 They see any negative expression of hers as reflecting justifiable frustration that anyone in a similar situation would have. She is frequently said to be a strong woman of faith, enduring through unexplained and undeserved sufferings, unselfishly caring for her daughters-in-law. For instance Bush wrote that Naomi is “the virtual enfleshment of hesed, that quality of kindness, graciousness, and loyalty that goes beyond the call of duty.”6 On the other hand some writers do see Naomi responding in a negative manner.<...

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